In early 2010, my wife Sharon and I started A Partnership Of Diabetics (A-POD) in the Phillips Community of south Minneapolis—considered the most culturally-diverse, economically-challenged in Minnesota. If we can make our program work here, we thought, it just might work anywhere! We began without a cent of grant money using just our Social Security and pension funds. The Center for Changing Lives of Lutheran Social Services initially provided us with a meeting space. Advertising through Meet-up.com and word of mouth, we started with a daylong “POD-Tensive” involving twenty-five participants—both Type 1 and 2, and introduced a program that identifies strategies for optimal self-management and wrapped them around a weekly Meet-up in which we help each other track our progress and our difficulties coping.
We’re simply one diabetic talking with another and meet together in small groups designed for checking-in and sharing ideas and experiences. We’ve learned to build a program around a community of people open to trust one another and rely on each other’s support, which we think is the major gap in many diabetes programs. Compared to an clinical average of roughly an hour of annual contact with primary health care professionals, A-POD utilizes non-practicing and retired health-care professionals at each meet-up to provide medical information. Bridget Tierney, Physician Assistant Certified is our main facilitator and helps moderate discussions. She provides considerable information regarding the medical aspects of diabetes and newly available treatments. Deb Johnson-Tate is our Social Worker and keeps in close contact with all participants between Meet-ups. Deb also drafts our Meet-up Progress Notes to enable us to give a narrative of discussion topics and concerns. In past Meet-ups, Pamela North, a physician and psychiatrist participated and helped design our programs. In addition, in our Somali program, we have been blessed by the presence and participation of Faduma Addow, the only Somali phychiatrist in North America, Nadifa Osman, a community health organizer, and Ubah Keynan, RN.
Neither practicing medicine nor giving out medical advice, they instead urge participants to keep in contact with their own health care practitioners. Participants receive the equivalent of nearly 84 hours contact each year! No clinic or hospital anywhere can come close to matching the number of hours we meet together to address the constant ups and downs of diabetes. This approach keeps us from becoming overwhelmed by the daily challenges that diabetes presents and offers an early warning system for more serious issues.
We begin each Meet-up with a check-in where our weight, BMI and blood pressure are recorded. Every three months, those without insurance perform their own A1c tests using the Bayer system. Down the road, we also hope to measure our cholesterol levels and be able to download data and calibrate each participant’s glucometers. We also hope to incorporate new thermal imagery for our feet to detect problems before they show up in regular feet inspections.
When we share, support and challenge each other we discover how similar, yet unique each of us are as diabetics. Those who choose to be silent and just listen are honored just as much as those who talk. There's tears and laughter, but at the end of the day, each of the participants who stayed with the program have had demonstrable progress with their diabetes outcomes.
A-POD is not just for those who need help and support, but also provides an opportunity for those who have successfully managed their condition, to mentor and share with the community their hard-earned skills. Tim is an insulin-dependent (Type 1) diabetic who is approaching 43 years of success in his management skills. He spends countless hours mentoring others online through diabetes specific websites. He shares while learning more about himself and how to better improve his outcomes. Tim is not unique in his service to other diabetics, but he certainly sets a fine example of giving back.
At A-POD Meet-ups, we discuss healthy eating and physical activities, and given our new location at the Phillips Community Center, we now have Running Wolf Fitness Center and a commercial kitchen/dining room next door so we can demonstrate healthier practices instead of just talking about them. Soon we will have a restored swimming pool in the building as well and will be on our way to further creating the first comprehensive, community-based chronic condition “mall”.
A-POD recently initiated a Somali Women's Diabetes Management Workshop where participants speak little or no English. We recruited native Somali speakers with healthcare experience to translate and help us proceed with demonstrations and listening sessions. Everybody was completely amazed how easily A-POD’s diabetes management strategies can be applied even by those unable to read any language. We have continued with a series of weekly Meet-ups conducted exclusively in the Somali language.
Through A Partnership Of Diabetics, we learned that the greatest opportunity for effective diabetes self-management and recovery is centered around a carefully-constructed network of family, social, and community-based resources that complement the assistance by our chosen health care providers. A-POD supplements current health care initiatives, it does not supplant them. Through A-POD, we are truly on the way to controlling our diabetes for life!
Through its Minneapolis-based Backyard Initiative, Allina Health Systems provided initial financial support and was recently joined by Novo Nordisk, a global manufacturer of diabetes-related products. Novo provides scholarships for those whose incomes are too low to participate in this very inexpensive program of long-term support.
To participate in upcoming A-POD Meet-ups or a monthly Diabetes Breakfast, contact Robert Albee at firstname.lastname@example.org. These events are held at the Phillips Community Center, 2323 11th Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55404. A-POD’s Meet-up schedule is published at Meetup.com.